Hawke's Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex

60-70 Marine Parade, Napier

  • Hawke's Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex, Napier.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Joanna Barnes-Wylie. Date: 5/08/2020.
  • Hawke's Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex, Napier. The Veronica Sun Bay named after the HMS Veronica. CC BY-SA 2.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: russellstreet - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: russellstreet. Date: 3/06/2012.
  • Hawke's Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex, Napier. New Napier Arch CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Keith Murray. Taken By: Keith Murray. Date: 31/10/2013.
  • Hawke's Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex, Napier. Kirk Sun Dial.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Joanna Barnes-Wylie. Date: 5/08/2020.
  • Hawke's Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex, Napier. Skating Rink Post 1937 Image courtesy of Collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 5613 e.
    Copyright: Public Domain. Taken By: Unknown.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 2807 Date Entered 11th February 2021 Date of Effect 10th March 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 3 SO 396199 (RT 462213, NZ Gazette 2008, p.5188); part of the land described as of Lot 1 DP 25889 (RT HBV4/537 NZ Gazette 1996, p.4644); and part of the land described as Legal Road, Hawkes Bay Land District, and the structures known as the Kirk Sundial, colonnades, the Harold Latham Arch, the New Napier Arch, the Robert Wright Arch and the Veronica Sunbay (including the Reflecting Ball) thereon. The extent does not include the central paved area (also known as the skating area) or the Sound Shell (see List No. 4822 for both) or the Marine Parade Sea Wall (Former) (see List No. 1164) as that structure was interrupted for the construction of the colonnade and arches.

City/District Council

Napier City


Hawke's Bay Region

Legal description

Sec 3 SO 396199 (RT 462213, NZ Gazette 2008, p.5188); Lot 1 DP25889 (RT HBV4/537, NZ Gazette 1996, p.4644); Legal Road, Hawke’s Bay Land District.

Location description

New Napier Arch – NZTM Easting: 1937090 Northing: 5621552 (+/- 4m)

Harold Latham Arch – NZTM Easting: 1937086 Northing: 5621526 (+/- 3m)

Robert C. Wright Arch – NZTM Easting: 1937093 Northing: 5621579 (+/- 3m)

Veronica Sunbay – NZTM Easting: 1937125 Northing: 5621550 (+/- 3m)

Kirk Sundial – NZTM Easting: 1937109 Northing: 5621584 (+/- 3m)

Northern end of Western Colonnade – NZTM Easting: 1937095 Northing: 5621583 (+/- 3m)

Southern end of Western Colonnade – NZTM Easting: 1937079 Northing: 5621495 (+/- 4m)

Southern end of Eastern Colonnade – NZTM Easting: 1937114 Northing: 5621489 (+/- 3m)

Northern end of Eastern Colonnade – NZTM Easting: 1937116 Northing: 5621515 (+/- 3m)


The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex, located on Napier’s Marine Parade, comprises of several structures designed in the 1930s, which together form a public memorial in Napier commemorating the broad social impact of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake. The complex consists of the Kirk Sundial (1933), Harold Latham Arch (1936), New Napier Arch and Robert Wright Arch (1938), connecting colonnades (1936-38), and the Veronica Sunbay (1934, rebuilt 1991). The complex’s historic significance derives from its part in the wider development of Marine Parade, as well as its importance for memorialising the earthquake and celebrating the rebuild of Napier. The complex has architectural consistency and significance as each element (with the exception of the sundial) is designed in the Classical architectural style. A scenic and peaceful place located within sight and sound of the Napier city-centre and the ocean, the complex has aesthetic significance. It also has social significance as a site which brings locals and visitors together for recreation or to reflect on the devastation of the earthquake and Napier’s subsequent rebirth.

Mayor George Swan (1833-1913) had a vision for Marine Parade as a ‘grand esplanade’, like that of a British seaside town and began developing the Napier seafront with that in mind. This idea was given new life in the aftermath of the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake when the people of Napier had the unique opportunity to reconsider the look and design of their township. They built-up and levelled the newly raised foreshore and built the complex to commemorate both the devastating earthquake and the courage shown in response to that traumatic event.

The pergola, known as the Veronica Sunbay, encloses the eastern side of the complex. The imposing New Napier Arch and the two identical but more modest arches, the Harold Latham Arch and the Robert Wright Arch, line the street-front and are all inscribed with aspirational quotes. The arches are linked by colonnades which extend north from the Sound Shell at the southern end of the complex features. All, with the exception of the sundial, are examples of the work of local architect John Thomas Watson, who went on to become Borough Architect of Napier. Much of the funding came from local civic group the Thirty Thousand Club, except for the Kirk Sundial, which was designed by notable architect James Augustus Louis Hay and constructed in 1933, a gift to the town by former Mayor of Gisborne, James Robert Kirk.

The complex looks much as it did when first built in the 1930s. The Veronica Sunbay became unsafe and was demolished in 1988. It was entirely rebuilt through community initiatives in 1991 to its original 1934 design. It continues to be an important and well-used contributing element to this complex, providing visitors with a sheltered view of the Pacific Ocean. The complex defines and is a key focus of an important civic space used for events, such as the annual Art Deco Festival, and has social significance as an iconic part of the commemorative landscape of the Marine Parade.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This group of structures has historical significance for their association with the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake, a nationally significant event and a turning point for the history and development of Napier and the Hawke’s Bay area. They are part of the wider development along Napier’s Marine Parade in the 1930s that was made possible by land having been raised by the earthquake, and the hard work and vision of those who were determined to make the best of the opportunities of the rebuild. Much of this work was funded by civic groups - particularly the Napier Thirty Thousand Club who had a significant influence on the development and promotion of Napier in the 1930s. The inclusion of the Kirk Sundial in the complex has historic value, because its architect, James Augustus Louis Hay, was a key figure in the planning and rebuilding of central Napier. The Hawke’s Bay Memorial Complex has historic importance because it was constructed to commemorate the past and promote a new, forward looking township, reinventing itself and rising from the ashes to a brighter and more prosperous future.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The Classical and Art Deco styling of the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex’s structures unites them to create a cohesive sense of place within a wider recreational and commemorative landscape. Located against the backdrop of the sparkling sea and surrounded by gardens and promenades, the place feels both peaceful and timeless, promoting reflection and contemplation in the visitor. The grandeur of the Classical colonnade and employment of the ‘triumphal arch’ element invokes sentiments of grief for the memory of the lost, civic pride for the town and hope for a brighter future.

Architectural Significance or Value

The Hawke’s Bay Memorial Earthquake Complex has architectural significance because of the design of the place, with its Classically-inspired triumphal arches, colonnades and sunbay, is a continuance of the architectural vocabulary typically used for important public monuments and buildings. Notable architect John Thomas Watson adapted this to the aesthetic of the 1930s era by restraining the ornamentation, without sacrificing grandeur.

Social Significance or Value

The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex has social significance as purpose-built space to bring the people of Napier and its visitors together. As a highly accessible public memorial to the earthquake, and the site where people have gathered to commemorate this significant event, the complex contributes to a sense of a shared past and identity for the people of Napier and has become a local landmark for this reason. The structures create a ‘town square’-like space that hosts various high-profile events and civic and recreation activities. In particular, the Veronica Sunbay is a place where many people congregate to socialise, rest and enjoy a view of the ocean. As well as contributing to the overall commemorative function of the space, the Harold Latham and Robert C. Wright Arches and the Kirk Sundial honour important supporters of the rejuvenation project. Together, the elements in the complex, and the adjoining Sound Shell, are a popular venue for annual Art Deco Festival events, and other civic and community occasions.

This place was assessed against the Section 66(3) criteria and found to qualify under the following criteria: b, f, h and k. The assessment concludes that this place should be listed as a Category 2 historic place.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The Hawke’s Bay Memorial Complex is associated with one of the most significant natural disasters in New Zealand’s history, the Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 3 February 1931. The earthquake caused widespread damage throughout the region and the death toll is the highest in the country’s history for a natural disaster. The complex was constructed in the aftermath of the event to commemorate it, and as the centrepiece of the complex proclaims, celebrate the New Napier. The complex’s features are examples of the work of prominent Napier architects John Thomas Watson and James Augustus Louis Hay. Hay, in his capacity as a private architect, was important in the rebuild of Napier’s central city, being a member of the Napier Reconstruction Committee and also designing many new buildings and the Napier Earthquake Memorial at Park Island. Watson was Borough Architect and was influential in shaping the vision for a new Napier and its iconic promenade Marine Parade.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The complex is situated in an easily accessible location on Marine Parade in central Napier. It provides an opportunity for both locals and visitors to visit, walk under the arches and reflect on the impact and devastation of the 1931 earthquake to the area, and how positive and forward-looking locals felt at the time about the rebuild of their town. The arches’ inscriptions teach visitors about the stalwart attitude of the locals to the rebuild of their township. The Veronica Sunbay has a central plaque which explains how the Sunbay was renamed and dedicated to the memory of the assistance by the crew of the HMS Veronica after the earthquake.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The complex has great symbolic and commemorative significance to the people of Napier. Constructed as a memorial, the complex commemorate not just in the recollection of the disaster, but the triumph of the human spirit in adversity. The 50th and 60th anniversaries of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake were commemorated at services amid the memorial complex on February 1981 and 1991. It continues to function as a public memorial in Napier commemorating the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

The memorial complex is one of many important memorials along Napier’s Marine Parade and is a significant contributor to this wider commemorative landscape. Others include the 1918 Swan Memorial Pool Shelter (List No. 1165), the 1897 Flood Heroism Memorial (List No. 1115), Napier War Memorial Centre and the Tom Parker Fountain. West of the complex is the South African War Memorial (List No. 1111). To its south is the 1971 Spirit of Napier. The complex sits within the Napier City Centre Historic Area (List No. 7022).

Summary of Significance or Values

The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex has historic significance as one of the main memorials to the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake and, in particular, the rebuild of Napier which was devastated by the event. It has social importance as a community-driven project which has become a key local civic and commemorative space, inclusive of individual memorials to contributors to the project, and is (literally) central to the wider commemorative and recreational landscape of the Marine Parade.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Hay, James Augustus Louis

J A Louis Hay (1881-1948) was born at Akaroa, Banks Peninsula. He attended Napier Boys' High School and worked for both D T Natusch and Walter P Finch. Hay developed a strong interest in the work of William Morris (1834-1869), Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959). On completion of his training Hay worked both in Dunedin and Australia before returning to Napier to commence practice on his own account.

Hay was chairman of the Hawkes Bay branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and was the Institute representative on the Napier Reconstruction Committee after the 1931 earthquake. He also did extensive work toward the reconstruction of Napier in the 1930s as a member of Associated Architects, a co-operative design organisation whose members included the principals of the three other major architectural practices in Napier at that time - C T Natusch and Sons, Finch and Westerholm and E A Williams. In collaboration with these architects Hay contributed to the Marine Parade Development plan, and the reconstruction of Napier Public Hospital.

In his own practice Hay was responsible for the designs of the National Tobacco Company Building (now Rothman's), Ahuriri (1933), the Hawkes Bay Art Gallery and Museum (1935), and the Hildebrandt Building, Tennyson Street (1932). His domestic work includes 'Waiohika', Greys Bush, Gisborne (1920).

Watson, John Thomas

Watson was born in Hull, England, and worked on the construction of the Rand goldmines in South Africa before coming to New Zealand in 1905. He practised architecture in Greymouth, Masterton and Wellington before moving to Napier in 1932. In Masterton he was responsible for the design of the Soldiers' Wing at Masterton Hospital (1918) and in Wellington for the Wellington Show Association Buildings (1927) while working as an architect for the Edwards Construction Company.

Initially he practised privately in Napier, but in 1935 he was pointed Borough Architect and designed the Memorial Colonnade (1937), New Napier Arch (1937), the Sound Shell and the Municipal Theatre (1937).

In 1955 Watson retired to resume private practice. He then designed the Power Board building, Marewa (1956), the Napier Boys' High School Memorial Gateway (1960) and also had a role in the design of extensions to Napier Girls' High School and the construction of the Napier Airport Terminal Building.

Angus, William McKenzie

William McKenzie Angus was born in Naseby in 1883. At age 14 he moved to Wellington to work as a blacksmith but changed to carpentry and worked in several North Island centres before coming to Napier in approximately 1907. He founded the firm W M Angus Ltd in 1923, with approximately 4-5 employees. At the time of his death in July 1968 the firm had 200 employees. His first major job in Napier, the Chief Post Office, withstood the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake as did the other buildings he had erected in Napier by this time. (Registration Report for the Waiapu Diocesan Office Building and Synod Hall, 2008).

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early Napier

Māori settled in the Hawke’s Bay area relatively early in New Zealand’s history. Settlement would have been encouraged by food sources which were plentiful both inland, in the lagoon, and along the coast. Whatumamoa, Rangitāne, Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tara became established in the areas of Pētane, Te Whanganui-a-Orotū and Waiohiki. From the 16th century these iwi were displaced by Ngāti Kahungunu, whose influence eventually spread from Poverty Bay to as far south as Wellington. In the 1840s and 50s contact between these iwi and Europeans was limited to the whalers, missionaries and itinerant traders who plied their trade along the coast, but in 1851 a key land deal was struck. The Ahuriri Purchase was negotiated by Land Commissioner Donald McLean on behalf of the Crown. It was followed by other smaller land purchases in the area. Europeans settled in the region to grow crops and farm animals and the township of Napier was founded in 1855. Other land in the area changed hands and by 1859, the Crown had purchased an estimated 1,404,700 acres (568,462 hectares) of land from iwi in the area.

Napier, in its early days, was an area nearly entirely surrounded by swamp and sea. It was described as ‘a precipitous island of barren, uninhabited ridges, covered with fern and rough grass, dissected by gorges and ravines, with a narrow strip of shingle skirting the cliffs, and joined to the mainland south by a five mile shingle bank… A hopeless spot for a town site’. Despite this inauspicious assessment, Napier developed to become a busy port town– servicing the Hawke’s Bay area and exporting meat, wool and dairy from those working the land. Napier grew steadily to become the administrative, commercial, and social hub for the area. It formally changed its status from borough to city in 1950 when its population hit 20,000.

As Napier prospered, Marine Parade (originally called Beach Road) became a feature of the waterfront. Mayor George Swan (1833-1913) described a vision he had for the Marine Parade – that of a ‘grand esplanade’ inspired by the promenades of iconic British seaside towns. To this end, he had Norfolk pines planted along the foreshore, footpaths built and a band rotunda constructed. The township was threatened by encroaching waves during bad weather, so Swan’s vision for Marine Parade required a solid seawall and in 1888 the problem of the inadequacies of the existing seawall was again before the council. Eventually further sections of a new seawall were undertaken, with a concrete parapet above the road level, constructed with prison labour. The final section was finished in 1892 and allowed further development along the foreshore.

The Earthquake

By 1930 Napier, like the rest of the nation, was in the grip of the Great Depression, but worse lay ahead. On 3 February 1931 Hawke’s Bay was struck by an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale; in the townships of Napier and Hastings, and the surrounding district, 256 people died and countless more were injured. In terms of the number of people killed, the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake ‘remains the worst civil disaster to have occurred in New Zealand’.

The earthquake destroyed many buildings beyond repair, particularly in the Napier city centre, and the fires and aftershocks that followed the earthquake contributed to further devastation. Historian Michael King wrote that in the surrounding area ‘whole hillsides disappeared, rivers were dammed, great fissures appeared in the earth and ran for kilometres’. In places land was uplifted by eight feet. The challenge of organising the rebuild of Napier was taken on by magistrate John Saxon Barton and engineer Lachlan Bain Campbell, who worked in collaboration with local committees. They worked to restore crucial services, clear debris, issue permits for building repairs and restart the area’s economy.

Post-earthquake, the local government and the people of Napier were in the unique situation of being able to reconsider the look and design of their township. Commissioner Barton argued that they should seize the ‘glorious opportunity to correct the errors of the past and have a well-laid-out town’. Prior to the earthquake, architectural styles in Napier were already moving away from Victorian and Edwardian styles, but new building regulations post-earthquake embedded a focus on seismically resistant materials, such as reinforced concrete and reduced ornamentation, especially for commercial and public buildings and structures. Although Stripped Classical continued to be a dignified choice for banks and public structures, and Moderne and Spanish Mission styles were also popular, the overwhelming choice was Art Deco. This style had the advantage of being a fashionable, safe form of building which was inexpensive to construct.

The recently uplifted foreshore provided new space for the town’s development. Debris from the devastated Napier town centre was shifted to the water’s edge to build up and level what is now the foreshore. Workers, employed under a Great Depression work scheme organised by the Napier Borough Council Parks and Reserves Department, mixed the rubble with local limestone, clay and topsoil to create an entirely new space. Large sections of the, now unnecessary, seawall were demolished.

Marine Parade develops

The 1930s saw extensive development along Marine Parade in the form of both structures and gardens. This redevelopment was not just central government of local council-led. In particular, community and civic clubs were integral to the development of Marine Parade. The Rotary Club of Napier, established in 1924, was active in the reconstruction. The Club President at the time said that ‘no Rotary Club ever had a better opportunity of rendering service to its community than that presented at the moment.’ The Thirty Thousand Club also had a vision for this area. Formed in February 1912 to motivate a township ‘tired with the drowsiness of doing nothing’, the Club was a community service organisation which worked to support the tourism and economic development of Napier. Their founding goal was to increase the population of Napier to 30,000 at a time when the township was less than 15,000. It sought to foster the ‘spirit of civic pride and enthusiasm’ within Napier. Prior to the earthquake, their most notable project had been the installation of lighting along the Marine Parade in 1914. The Thirty Thousand Club funded the Veronica Sunbay, colonnades and arches, structures grouped around the adjacent Sound Shell and Skating Rink that were constructed from 1932-1934 (List No. 4822, Historic Place Category 2).

Some of these new features took on new meaning as symbols of the rebirth of the city. Landscape historian Robin Woodward writes that this memorial landscape:

‘…trumpeted Napier’s intention not just to rise from the rubble and ashes of the earthquake and fires, but to reinvent itself in the process. Not from Brighton Beach did this design come – but from tinsel town, from Hollywood. And with it went the Veronica Sun Bay, a colonnade, three grand arches – including the so-called ‘New Napier Arch’ and, most daring of all – an outdoor dancing area … Napier was being restyled as a modern city of the future, a place for fun and pleasure.’

The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex is not the only earthquake memorial in Napier. The remains of 101 of the Napier victims of the earthquake were interred in a common grave at Napier’s Park Island Recreation Ground. Prominent Napier architect James Augustus Louis Hay designed an associated memorial, in the form of an obelisk, which was erected there in 1932. Hay was an important figure after the earthquake because he was a member of the Napier Reconstruction Committee and part of the group of local architects who banded together to come up with a coordinated architectural approach to the rebuild. In a separate undertaking, the Rotary Club of Ahuriri commissioned artist Frank Szirmay to construct a sculpture celebrating the rebirth of the city. His ‘Spirit of Napier’ was unveiled in 1971, overlooking the southern part of Marine Parade. While the Park Island memorial focusses on loss, the Spirit focusses on hope for the future. The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex embraces both these aspects.

Kirk Sundial

The Kirk Sundial was the first of the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex’s group of elements to be installed. It was also constructed in 1933 also to a design by Louis Hay. The sundial was a gift from James Robert Kirk, former Mayor of Gisborne, who was ‘struck with the spirit of rehabilitation’ in Napier. This sentiment was echoed by the inscription: ‘Calamity is man’s true touchstone’ incised on a bronze plate. On the top section are two additional inscriptions: ‘Serene I stand amid the flowers to tell the passing of the hours’ and ‘Smiles equal sunshine in helping folks along’. The Poverty Bay Herald described the structure: ‘the bronze arrows have been inserted in the bottom concrete steps, the great cities and notable places of the Empire, their directions and distances being indicated’.

Veronica Sunbay

The next element of this memorial complex was the Veronica Sunbay, which was constructed in 1934. It was originally called the Circular Bay. The structure was built to a design drawn up by John Thomas Watson. Watson was originally from England. He initially worked in Napier in private practice, but went on to become the Napier Borough Architect and designed many buildings around Napier in that capacity. One of his best known designs is the Art Deco Municipal Theatre (1938). His design for the Sunbay was one of his early works. It consists of a flat-roofed curved pergola with seating where visitors could relax and enjoy a sheltered view of the sea. The construction was funded mainly by the Thirty Thousand Club and the Borough Council, with smaller contributions from the Carnival Committee and Retailers’ Association. It ran over budget to a total cost of just over £1,400.

The structure became a memorial when it was renamed the ‘Veronica Sunbay’ in 1937. It was named in honour of the crew of the HMS Veronica who provided crucial assistance as first responders in the aftermath of the earthquake. The Naval ship was berthed at Port Ahuriri when the earthquake struck its crew were the first to report the event, by the ship’s Morse Code. The sailors then went onshore and are remembered as ‘brave, disciplined and efficient’ as they bought ‘renewed order and confidence to the stricken town’. Their ship’s bell was gifted to the city as a reminder of the events of the earthquake and hung beneath the ‘VERONICA’ signage on the Sunbay. During the New Zealand Centennial celebrations in 1940 three painted panels were temporarily fixed on the top of the Sunbay. They depicted the arrival of an immigrant ship, two men in a waka and the ruins of a building and the New Zealand coat of arms. The bell was removed from the Sunbay in the 1990s, due to vandalism, and in 1998 it was provided on loan to MTG Hawke’s Bay Tai Ahuriri’s collection. It is rung ceremonially at New Years and during the annual Art Deco festivities.

The original stainless steel reflecting bowl, situated in centre of the Sunbay’s circular garden, was removed at some point in the 1970s. In March 1993 a new Art Deco-inspired, polished, stainless steel ball was gifted to Napier by Corinne and Russ Spiller in memory of Percy Spiller MBE. Percy Spiller was one of the original members of the Napier Frivolity Minstrels. In this capacity, he served at various times as performer, secretary and producer. For thirty years he was also secretary of the Thirty Thousand Club and the Napier Competition Society. After the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake he served as the secretary of the Napier Reconstruction Committee. Given his close connection to these local groups, the complex is a fitting place to honour his memory.

Arches and colonnades

These arches and colonnades, like the Veronica Sunbay, were designed by John Thomas Watson. The three arches and the colonnades which link them are a central feature of the memorial space. Like the Sunbay, they were designed in a Classical architectural style and partially enclose the complex. The first phase of construction was in 1936, and included the Harold Latham Memorial Arch, the Sound Shell and the colonnades that link the two, as well as the colonnade on the eastern side. Two years later in March 1938 it was decided to extend the western colonnade and construct two additional arches at a total cost of £780. One of these arches was to be identical in size and proportion to the existing Latham Memorial Arch and called the ‘Robert C. Wright Arch’. Both Latham and Wright had recently passed on at the time of construction, having been active members of the Thirty Thousand Club who sought to develop the Marine Parade. Wright was a former member of the Hawke’s Bay Education Board. Both ‘had seen the possibility of making the Marine Parade an outstanding resort’. As at March 1938 the Poverty Bay Herald reported that the larger central arch was yet unnamed. The suggestion of ‘Arch of Remembrance’ was rejected and it was finally settled on the name ‘New Napier Arch’. It was completed in 1939. In accordance with the commemorative complex’s theme of resilience and recovery, each of the three arches is inscribed with an aspirational quote. On the more imposing and dominant central New Napier Arch is the writing ‘Courage is the thing: all goes when courage goes’. This quote was coined in 1922 by J.M. Barrie, a playwright and writer (most famous for his character Peter Pan). The Latham Arch is inscribed with ‘Without vision the people perish’ and the Wright Arch with ‘The pathway to power lies through service’. In this context they are a reflective tribute to the resilience of Napier during its ‘darkest days’, as it ‘celebrates triumph over adversity as well as the enduring nature of human courage and perseverance’.


The complex has fulfilled its original purpose by becoming a landmark and focal point on the Marine Parade and as a dedicated recreational space. In the 1930s and 40s, people had limited access to transportation by car and this area was an accessible space in the central business district (CBD). Since then, people of all ages have gathered to walk, rest, enjoy views of the ocean and sit in the Sunbay or on the colonnade seating to watch people dancing, skating for leisure and competition or watch concerts. The iconic Howard Morrison Quartet was just one of the acts which performed in the Sound Shell in the early 1960s, with the New Napier Arch and the complex’s other structures as a backdrop. A wide variety of more recent performances have included the Royal New Zealand Navy Concert, Diwali, Matariki Festival, Christmas concerts, New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, musical performances and theatrical productions.

Yet it is the Art Deco Festivities to which this complex has become indelibly linked. The Art Deco Group formed in 1985 and was incorporated in 1987 as the Art Deco Trust. Their mission is ‘to be committed to the preservation, restoration, promotion and celebration of Napier’s Art Deco era heritage’. The group organises regular guided tours of the Napier CBD, but their flagship event is the Art Deco Festival held each February, marking the anniversary of the earthquake. With help from around 120 volunteers, the Festival has flourished as a fixture on the Hawke’s Bay social calendar. The complex defines a popular venue for jazz concerts, parades, picnics, fashion shows and the Depression Dinner. The Festival has grown rapidly in popularity and has been described as putting Napier ‘not just on the map, but the globe’.

Although these elements all look very similar in appearance to how they looked when they were constructed in the 1930s, the Sound Shell, colonnade and arches have all undergone work to be ‘restored to their former glory’. However, it is the Veronica Sunbay which has undergone the most change to stay the same. By the late 1980s the Sunbay had become badly corroded, which meant it was completely demolished. It was then entirely rebuilt to the original design in 1991 with funding from the Rotary Club of Napier, Napier City Council and private donations. The total reconstruction cost for the Veronica Sunbay was $200,000 - the Rotary Club saved $20,000 by undertaking the demolition work themselves. A ceremony to rededicate the Sunbay was held on the 60th anniversary of the earthquake in 1991. The ongoing care for these structures indicates the esteem in which the complex is held.

The complex is significant to the people of Napier as a place which marks their shared past and identity forged through the experience of the earthquake and rebuild. The continued importance of this experience is evident from anniversary celebrations in 1981 and 1991 when many gathered at the complex to mark the earthquake’s 50th and then 60th anniversary. The complex continues to be a meaningful memorial and ‘enduring asset’ to the people of Napier.

Physical Description


The Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex is located towards the northern end of Marine Parade on Napier’s waterfront. This section of the coastline is long, straight and flat. The complex is situated within sight and sound of the Pacific Ocean and is aligned to be within easy access to the Napier CBD. This complex is part of a number of other memorial structures along Marine Parade. Situated north of the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Memorial Complex is the 1918 Swan Memorial Pool Shelter (List No. 1165, Historic Place Category 2), the 1897 Flood Heroism Memorial (List No. 1115, Historic Place Category 2), the Napier War Memorial and Conference Centre and the Tom Parker Fountain. West of the complex is the South African War Memorial (List No. 1111, Historic Place Category 2). To its south is the 1971 Spirit of Napier, which also memorialises the town’s response to the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake. The complex sits within the Napier City Centre Historic Area (List No. 7022).

Shaded on its western side by regularly planted mature Norfolk Island pine trees, the Hawke’s Bay Memorial Complex is built around a central paved area which is very worn with uneven concrete pavers in a faded, Art Deco pattern with a star-shape at its centre and a red and grey zigzag border. The Kirk Sundial is located to the north of this plaza space. The Sound Shell, a stage set within a circular dome, sits to the south of the area, but faces north. Matching colonnades, running parallel to each other, extend north from the Sound Shell. The extension of the western colonnade links the Harold Latham Arch, the New Napier Arch, and Robert Wright Arch. To the east of the complex the Veronica Sunbay overlooks the sea. Between the eastern, seaward colonnade and the Veronica Sunbay is a flight of steps down to the beach. Despite its proximity to the busy inner-city of Napier, this complex is an area which is both peaceful and scenic.

Kirk Sundial

Louis Hay designed the Kirk Sundial located at the northern extent of the memorial and at the southern end of a strip of lawn edged with flower gardens. It is made of marble, bronze, limestone and concrete. The structure, completed in 1933, sits on a low platform in the centre of a circular area of crazy paving. The sundial is approximately 1.5 meters in height. On the southern face of the plinth it has a bronze plate inscribed with ‘Calamity is man’s true touchstone’. Another small bronze plaque below this indicates it is ‘The Gift of J.R. Kirk Esq MBE 1933’. Bronze arrows on the bottom concrete steps point to major cities, notable places in the Empire and their distances. On the marble sundial face is inscribed with ‘Smiles equal sunshine in helping folks along’ and on the square base is ‘Serene I stand amidst the flowers to tell of the passing of the hours’. Instruction on the dial directs the reader to calculate the time by looking at the shadow of the bronze gnomon on the weathered marble dial.

Veronica Sunbay

The Veronica Sunbay is a curved, pergola structure on the eastern, seaward side of this complex, built in 1934. It was designed by Napier architect John Thomas Watson. Like the colonnade and arches, he designed it in a Classical architectural style. There are two groups of 16 polished concrete Doric columns set in groups of four at the northern and southern ends. They support an open roof of concrete beams and crossing rafters. These groupings are linked to each other by a further eight pairs of Doric columns and rectangular concrete supports for a partial roof on the seaward side. Each Doric column and each concrete support has a small dedication plaque at the base of each, acknowledging benefactors who contributed to the cost of the structure. The Sunbay has seating on both seaward and inland sides and window openings through which visitors can enjoy a view of the ocean protected from the elements by the shallow roof. There are Art Deco globe lights fixed to both sides of the Sunbay. The signage ‘VERONICA’ is mounted above the central, west-facing concrete beam. The Sunbay curves around a tidy lawn with garden plantings, a central paved area with brick edging, large dedication plaque. It reads:

‘Originally erected in 1934 to commemorate the Hawke's Bay earthquake of 3rd February 1931, this memorial is named in honour of HMS Veronica and the outstanding service given by her officers and crew at the time of the disaster. Rebuilding of the Sun Bay was accomplished through the initiative and leadership of the Rotary Club of Napier and contributions from the citizens of Hawke's Bay and the Napier City Council. This plaque was unveiled at the dedication of the rebuilt memorial, which took place on the Sixtieth Anniversary of the earthquake - 3rd February 1991.’

A polished, stainless steel reflecting ball sits, on a plinth, in the centre of the circular floral garden on the western side of the Sunbay. It creates a visual focal point and reflects the colours and shapes of the environment around it.

Inscribed on a plaque on the wall of the Sunbay is a poem written by Gertrude Ryder Bennett, describing similar destruction caused by the San Francisco earthquake, half a world away in 1905:

‘I never understood how man could dare

To watch a city shaken to the ground,

To feel tremors, hear the tragic sound

Of houses twisting, crashing everywhere

And not be conquered by a sick despair.

Within my soul I made my towers high.

They lie in ruins, yet I have begun

To build again, now planning to restore

What life has shaken to the Earth; and I

In faith shall build my towers toward the sun,

A stronger city than was there before.’

In 1995 the glass panes in the Sunbay were permanently removed after vandals repeatedly broke them.

Latham and Wright Arches

The Harold Latham and Robert C. Wright Arches are relatively modest in scale, Classical-inspired memorial arches, also designed by Watson. They are linked by a Classical style colonnade that runs north to south connecting to each other, the New Napier Arch between them, and the Sound Shell at the south. Each side of the semi-circular arch is supported by a simple capital at the top of a column set against the Doric column of the colonnade. The Harold Latham Arch was constructed in 1936 and the Robert C. Wright Arch completed in 1939. The only visual difference between the two arches is their inscriptions on their pediments which face the Marine Parade road. The Latham Arch is inscribed with ‘Harold Latham Arch’ above the arch and with ‘Without vision the people perish’ on the pediment. The Robert Wright Arch further north is inscribed with ‘Robert C Wright’ above the arch and with ‘The pathway to power lies through service’ inscribed on the pediment. The arches are plain, but ornamented with dentils on both the seaward side and the city side of each arch.

New Napier Arch

The central New Napier Arch is the centrepiece of the memorial complex and was specifically designed to be reminiscent of a Classical triumphal arch, because of its associations with victory and overcoming adversity. Built in concrete, it is located between the Latham and Wright arches and linked to them by the colonnade. This arch also faces the Marine Parade road and is more ornate and substantial than the other two. It’s two Doric columns are symmetrically placed on either side of the arch, each capped with a volute. The intrados of the arch has recessed patterning. There are four electric lights on each side of the arch within arched niches and one upper pair just below, an ornate fascia and frieze which in turn is surmounted by the pediment. The text above the arch on the city side reads: ‘New Napier Arch’ and the on the pediment reads: ‘Courage is the thing: all goes if courage goes’. The arch is painted in yellow and purple, with inscriptions picked out in white. There is no inscription on the seaward side. At the bottom of the street side of the Arch is a plaque which reads:

‘The Colonnade & Sound Shell Presented by the Napier Thirty-Thousand Club Inc. J.T. Watson FIAA Architect Napier.’


There are two sections of colonnade in this complex, designed by Watson and constructed in 1936 and 1939, which echo the architectural style of the adjacent Veronica Sunbay. They are both designed in Classical style and, like the arches, are reinforced concrete which has been painted. The western colonnade links the northern extent to the Robert C Wright Arch, the New Napier Arch and the Harold Latham Arch in turn to the Sound Shell. A shorter matching section, without arches, sits on the other side of the rectangular central lawn, starting by the southern end of the Veronica Sunbay, also terminating at the Sound Shell. Both sections of colonnade run on a north-south line parallel to the foreshore and Marine Parade road. A low concrete wall connects each Doric column. Stretched above and along the length of the columns is a concrete band supporting an awning of painted wooden slats.

Both sections of colonnade have green timber seating facing inwards to the lawn. The colonnade seating may have been added some time after the construction of the colonnades themselves. The identically designed seating fixed to the longer northern section of the western colonnade may have been built earlier, possibly as part of the original design. By 1945 plans were afoot to develop new ‘foundations, floodlighting, seating, fencing and shelters’ around the colonnade. The seating was in place by the 1950s and well-used by recreational skaters. The hooks from which the 78 gramophone speakers were hung are still evident on the colonnade. There are regularly spaced Art Deco globe lights and several modern electric lights positioned to light up the auditorium space and Sound Shell for evening events. The colonnades and their seating are painted in yellow, purple and green, typical Art Deco colours – bold, lively, and energetic. In 1994 Apacs undertook repairs to the plasterwork and beams on the arches and colonnade at a cost of $30,000.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1938 - 1939

1994 -

Original Construction
1933 -
Kirk Sundial constructed

Original Construction
1934 -
Veronica Sunbay constructed

Original Construction
1936 -
Harold Latham Arch and colonnades from Sound Shell constructed

1945 -
Seating added to the colonnade

Demolished - Other
1988 -
Veronica Sunbay demolished

Additional building added to site
1991 -
Veronica Sunbay rebuilt in replica

1994 -
Plasterwork and beams of arch and colonnade are repaired and resealed

Construction Details

Veronica Sunbay – reinforced concrete plaster, timber seating, glass globe lamps

Arches and colonnade – reinforced concrete plaster, timber seating, timber awning, glass globe lamps

Kirk Sundial – bronze, marble, concrete and limestone

Completion Date

4th November 2013

Report Written By

Miranda Williamson

Information Sources

Campbell, 1975

M. D. N. Campbell, Story of Napier, 1874-1974; Footprints Along the Shore

Annabell, 2012

John Barry Annabell, ‘Planning Napier, 1850-1968,’

Woodward, 2002

Woodward, Robin. Cultivating Paradise: Aspects of Napier’s Botanical History, Napier: Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust, 2002.

McGregor, 1998

McGregor, Robert. The Art Deco City: Napier, New Zealand, Napier: Art Deco Trust, 1998

McGregor, 1999

McGregor, Robert. The New Napier: The Art Deco City in the 1930s, Napier: Art Deco Trust, 1999.

Other Information

A fully referenced proposal summary report is available on request from Central Regional Office of the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.


This place is part of a reserve: Local Purpose (Passive Recreation) Reserve (NZ Gazette 2008, p.5188.); Local Purpose (Tourist and Visitor Facilities) Reserve (NZ Gazette 1996, p.4644.).